Coming off back to back double-doubles (two identical 16 point, 10 rebound outings) in the extremely competitive Italian first division, this seems like as good a time as any to chart the progress of promising Swedish small forward prospect Jonas Jerebko
. Last year was an up and down affair for Jerebko, playing his first season outside of the Swedish league, but weve seen considerable improvement in 08-09 with Angelico Biella.
Jerebkos body is looking better and better, as its clear that the work hes put in with Biellas physical trainers is reaping huge benefits. Hes gained almost 30 pounds since arriving in Italy, up from a scrawny 191 pounds to a much healthier 220which is a big deal in such a physical league like the Italian A1. He continues to play the small forward position almost exclusively despite standing 6-9, and looks far more confident, focused and intense than he did when we first saw him just over a year ago. Few teams in European basketball would have the patience or foresight to allow Jerebko the opportunity to play through his mistakes the way the coaching staff at Biella has (in a starting role no less) from the moment he arrived, and its starting to reap huge dividends for themnot all that unlike what this same team went through developing Thabo Sefolosha
a few years back.
Jerebko is a pure role-player in the Italian league, a niche that he thrives in considering his versatility. He does a little bit of everything for Biella, be it running the floor in their extremely up-tempo offense, crashing the offensive glass, rotating defensively, or doing a terrific job in the passing lanes. Jerebkos combination of size, length, athleticism and activity level really stands out in this setting, and with the increased toughness hes showing, hes been able to make a big difference on both ends of the floor.
Defensively is where Jerebko is probably at his best at the moment. Looking very comfortable guarding perimeter players, and having a huge size advantage over anyone he matches up with, Jerebko has the length and lateral quickness to contest almost every shot. He is extremely competitive on top of that, doing a terrific job switching on screens and being extremely difficult to shoot over, as hes very fundamentally sound. He comes up with a fair share of steals and blocks, and is a very good rebounder for his position. This type of hybrid-forwardcapable of playing the 3 on a half-court team, or the 4 in a more up-tempo system, is very much en-vogue these days, especially when they can defend both positions. As his frame continues to fill out, he will only become a better defender.
Offensively, Jerebko is somewhat limited, but clearly seems to be making strides. Hes an extremely efficient playershooting 64% on 2-pointers, and 42% on 3s, even if he only averages 9 points per game (in 25 minutes). Jerebkos jump-shot looks very good with his feet set, and recently hes even showing an ability to come off screens and make shots as wellwhich is very intriguing at his size. Hes a limited ball-handler, being somewhat predictable with his drives, and therefore has only gotten to the free throw line 7 times all season long in 16 games. His very nice athleticism makes him an explosive finisher around the basket, thoughhes come up with a number of highlight reel caliber dunks already this season.
Jerebko has a good feel for the game and is nowhere near a finished product at this point, still capable of adding plenty of polish as well as continuing to get stronger. Having left Sweden a little bit later than he probably should have, hes still learning the nuances of high-level basketball, but has proven to be an extremely quick study. Considering his physical tools and the fact that hes a late-bloomer, Jerebkos upside is significantly higher than the typical 1987-born European player. NBA teams could very well take a liking to him due to his athleticism and defensive potential, which are not all that typical on this side of the ocean.
His American background and comfortable buyout situation (he has just one more year on his contract with Biella after this season) are also big pluses, making it very easy to see him getting drafted somewhere in the second round, possibly very early on. Hell need to become a reliable outside shooter from the NBA 3-point line and show that he can continue defend his position in order to develop into a legit NBA rotation player, but thats beginning to look more and more like a legit possibility.